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More details on the urban public transport page
Driving & Parking
page last updated April 18, 2020
like most major European and world cities, are old and congested.
Driving in these cities is generally more of a hassle than a necessity,
especially with the excellent public transportation available. Still,
there may be times when you want or need a car in town, or just
got lost leaving the airport and ended-up in downtown Berlin, so here's
some things to know and keep in mind regarding driving and parking in
On this page:
of most German towns and cities feature a lovely system of narrow,
disjointed, and often one-way streets lined and clogged with
cars. You may find yourself feeling like a rat trapped in a
maze. A recent study determined that the average German spends 65
hours a year stuck in traffic or waiting at traffic lights. Having said
that, I can say that driving in town, even "downtown",
usually isn't too bad. After the war, many German cities rebuilt
their downtown districts and designed them to make automobile
navigation a little easier. If you have experience driving in
dense urban areas, you should manage fine in most German cities.
best advice is to get a good city map, study it, and make sure you know
where you're going before you head out. Directional and guide
signs may be hard to spot in the urban clutter, so be sure to keep an
eye peeled for them (having a passenger on the look out can be
advice I would offer is this: park your car somewhere convenient and
use public transportation to reach your final destination. This
may save you a considerable amount of time, money, and cursing. You'll
find many German cities have outlying park and ride (P+R
Anlage) locations marked with "park & ride"
Example of a "Schilderwald"
Many Germans describe
their streetscape as a "sign forest" (Schilderwald)
due to the
abundance of traffic signs, so you'll need to pay extra special
attention in areas with many signs so that you don't miss an important
one. Be especially on lookout for for "do not
and "one way" signs --
miss one of
these and you might become the new hood ornament on a delivery
truck. Traffic signals are usually easy to see, but sometimes
right-of-way signs may be difficult to spot. Also, look closely
for parking or no parking signs before you park on the street to make
sure that you may legally park there (more about this in the next
section.) Especially watch for the many hidden driveways
with obscure "Ausfahrt freihalten!" ("do not block
signs or you may return to find that the police have performed their
magic and made your car disappear. Some money will have to
disappear from your wallet to make the car reappear.
watch for is the "bus lane" sign --
marks a lane reserved for buses. You'll find these along some
in the larger cities. You may use this lane only if you're
turning right, and you must not enter the lane until just before you
make your turn. Taxis are allowed to use this lane as well
when marked with a corresponding supplemental sign.
a sharp eye
out for unmarked intersections, especially in residential areas, and
yield the right-of-way to traffic approaching from the right.
are rather "trigger-happy" when it comes to green lights. Many
drivers are already entering the intersection when the signal turns
green, so be prepared to go or expect some cranky honking from the guy
behind you just mere microseconds after the green comes on.
one-way maze, use larger two-way avenues and boulevards to get as close
to your destination as possible, then use the one-ways as needed to
finish the job. If you get lost in the one-way rat trap, be
warned that a couple of right turns could put you in France
instead of back where you started.
You would think
that the Germans, with their collective obsessive/compulsive disorder,
would have something as simple as house numbering organized to a
fault. Instead, you often have to consume a couple of liters of beer
before it makes any sense. Many places, fortunately, have the logical
odd/even scheme. However, in some older places, houses
are numbered up one
side of the street then back down the other. When more houses
were built along the same street, they repeated the process with the
new houses. So on the four corners of a single intersection, you
could have house numbers 20, 21, 40, and 110.
numbering in disarray, it's no surprise that street names are as
well. A street can change names anywhere it wants to (even in the
middle of the block), and each name is guaranteed to be longer and just
as irrelevant as the last one. Helping to add syllables is the
fact that attached to each name is a suffix denoting the kind of
roadway. For instance, Strasse or Straße is
"street" and Weg is
"lane" or "way". However, Allee is not "alley", but
rather "boulevard" or "avenue"; gasse is "alley."
are others, but those are the usual suspects.
largest German cities have multi-level intersections in their central
areas. You'll often find that through traffic passes in a tunnel
under major signalized intersections. In some of the busiest
places, there may be extensive underground trafficways. Again,
make sure you study a good city map before you start out.
German cities is no better or worse than other European and world
cities. Rush hours are generally 7.00-9.00 and 16.00-18.00 on
weekdays. In some of the trendy nightlife districts, you may find
yourself staring at brake lights until well after 23.00. Popular
shopping areas will usually be congested and parking particularly hard
to come by on Saturdays.
the watch for pedestrians. They always have the right-of-way in
zebra-marked crosswalks, but oftentimes they'll dart-out between cars
and other locations. In residential areas, be on the lookout for
children playing near streets-- you're required by law to pass by them
at the slowest speed possible. The same holds true if a
handicapped or elderly person is in or near the street.
driving in cities in Germany involves the same skill, patience, and
sense of humor as driving in cities in the US and elsewhere. Use
common sense and pay attention and you should do fine.
Since 2007, local governments have been permitted to establish so-called
"environmental zones" (Umweltzone). Access to these zones, marked with
"low emissions restriction zone" signs ,
is restricted to vehicles displaying one of the
red, yellow, or green colored emissions stickers specified on a
supplemental sign mounted below the main sign. As of this writing, there are 58 such zones in Germany.
|Diesel vehicle ban|
the wake of the Volkswagen diesel scandal in 2015 and with many German
cities struggling to bring air pollution levels within EU limits, an
environmental group won a lawsuit in 2018 to force the cities of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf to enact bans on diesel vehicles, and several
additional cities including Berlin, Hamburg, Darmstadt, and Essen have
now also done so. The restrictions apply to older diesel vehicles that
don't meet recent EU standards (typically "Euro 5" or "Euro 6".)
Depending on the city, these vehicles are prohibited in either in
the existing environmental zone (Umweltzone) or only on certain streets.
Whether the prohibition also applies to residents, local visitors, and
deliveries also varies by city. Roads or areas subject to these
prohibitions are marked by signs like the one to the left.
bans are highly controversial in Germany. Additional cities have
planned bans that are currently in litigation. Some cities have
settled lawsuits against planned bans by implementing less stringent
restrictions or other programs to reduce pollution.
problem may not be navigating cities, but finding someplace to
(legally) stash your vehicle reasonably close to your
destination. In most German cities, you'll have a good selection
of parking facilities. There is the ubiquitous on-street parking
as well as off-street parking lots (Parkplatz),
garages (Parkhaus), and underground garages (Tiefgarage).
Most large cities have extensive parking facilities, and parking maps
are usually available from the tourist information offices.
Unfortunately, there are often not enough spaces to go around, and you
may have to drive around a little while before you find a place, all
the while feeling like the losing participant in a round of musical
chairs. Still, except on the busiest days and during the peak
times, you should be able to find a place within a reasonable amount of
time. Costs for parking in Germany are a little on the pricey
Parking on the street is the most common means of parking in
Germany. Unless specifically prohibited by a sign or general
regulation, on-street parking is usually permitted everywhere (see the
parking section of the road
for laws regarding on-street parking.) The "parking area" sign along
the street specifically indicates
where such parking is permitted, although when used it is usually
accompanied by additional signs indicating when parking is permitted,
who is permitted to park, or requiring the use of a parking permit,
voucher, or disc. Here are some examples:
a parking disc
You may only park for the length of time indicated (e.g. 2 hours)
purchase of a parking voucher (Parkschein)
Parking only for
residents with indicated permit number
The "parking management area" sign
marks the entrance to a
neighborhood where parking
allowed on all streets in the area (unless otherwise posted)
use of a parking disc or
voucher as indicated by a supplemental sign. This means that this
requirement won't be posted on signs on each block. The "end of parking
management area" sign marks the exit from such an area.
more signs related to parking on the German
traffic signs page (page 2) as well as additional vocabulary
on-street parking may require you to use a parking voucher, parking
parking meter. Here are directions on the use of each:
vouchers (Parkschein) ("pay & display"): The
supplemental sign "mit
Parkschein" requires you to purchase a parking voucher before
leaving your vehicle. These are obtained from a nearby machine (Parkscheinautomat)--
look for tall signs marking the location of these, usually mid-block or
sometimes on corners. The operation of these machines
varies, but instructions (sometimes in English or with pictures) are
clearly posted on
the front. On some, you first locate the parking rates (Parkgebühr)
front of the machine. Determine how much time you'll need, then
deposit the corresponding amount. The display will indicate how
many minutes or what expiration date the amount you've inserted will
buy. When you're happy with the time shown, press the
designated "finish" button (often
green) and the machine will dispense a small ticket (voucher). On
machines, you start by pressing designated buttons to add time (often a
"+" button) until you get to the time you want, then insert your
payment. Once you've entered the amount due, the voucher will
be dispensed. Note that most machines do not make change. Many
machines now accept credit card payments and some now will
even allow you to pay using your mobile phone either via an app or SMS
Once you've paid and have your voucher, return to your vehicle and
place the voucher on
the dashboard where it may be easily read from the outside. You
must then return to your vehicle before the expiration time shown on
voucher. If the nearest voucher machine is out of order, you
should try to find another one close by; you will usually find another
one across the street, at the other end of the block, or around the
corner. If you cannot locate another machine, use a parking disc
instead (see below); you can then stay up to the maximum length of time
shown on the machine or signs.
Many areas only require you to use
a parking vouchers during certain times; check the signs or schedule on
the machine. Oftentimes, the machines will shut off when parking
vouchers are not required.
varieties of parking voucher machines
discs (Parkscheibe): A parking disc is a
blue cardboard or
plastic card with an adjustable time dial. You can obtain these
for free or nominal cost from many gas stations, newsstands, tobacco
shops, and police stations. Rental cars should already have them
(if yours doesn't, ask the rental agent for one.) Signs indicating that
you must use a parking disc will also
indicate the length of time you can park. Turn the dial so that
the arrow points to the time of your arrival,
rounded-up to the
next half hour. For example, if you arrive at 10:40, set the disc
for 11:00. Then place the disc on your dashboard. You must
return to your vehicle within the indicated time period. So, for
instance, if you arrived at 10:40 and the signs said that you could
park for 2 hours with a parking disc, you would set your disc for 11:00
and you would have to return to your vehicle by 13:00 (1:00pm). As with
many things in Germany, this mostly works on the honor system,
but spot checks are conducted. Many areas only require you to use
a parking disc during certain times; be sure to check the signs.
Outside of those times, you can usually park as long as you
double-check for other signs showing some other restriction.
disc set for 4:30
meters (Parkuhr): Individual-space
parking meters are not very common in
Germany, and rapidly becoming even less so, being replaced by the
parking voucher system. If you do stumble
upon one, you'll see that they work just like their US counterparts:
deposit your money, turn the knob (if there is one), look and see how
much time the meter shows, add more money if desired, and
return to your vehicle before the time expires. In the event of a
defective meter, you must use a parking disc. You may then park
up to the maximum time normally permitted at that location (i.e. the
maximum time shown on the meter.)
Parking fines generally range from €10-110 and if you are
obstructing traffic or a driveway, your vehicle will almost surely be
towed, and quite quickly. In such an event, call the police to settle
Besides indicating where parking is permitted on the street,
the "parking" sign also
gives directions to off-street
parking facilities. Directions to garages are usually indicated
by "parking garage" signs . In many larger cities
and towns, there are electronic signs indicating which lots and garages
are available (Frei) or full (Besetzt),
or showing the
number of available spaces. Parking facilities are
often numbered to assist you in finding them (e.g.
lot P1, garage P2,
etc.), especially in downtown areas, large shopping centers, and
airports; these are typically marked with the "indexed parking
facility" sign .
few lots and garages
allow you to park for free. The ones that do often require you
to use a parking disc (see above). The rest require
payment, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a lot or garage with an
attendant. While some lots use parking vouchers (see above),
most use an automated centralized self-pay system. When entering
the parking lot/garage, you obtain a time-stamped ticket from the entry
gate. Park your vehicle and take this ticket with you. When
you are ready to leave, but before you actually return to your vehicle,
find a parking payment machine (Kassenautomat).
usually located near pedestrian entrances. Insert the ticket you
received from the entry gate into the designated slot on the machine
and the amount due will be displayed. Pay the amount shown and
the machine will return your ticket or dispense a new one. If you
also want a receipt, push the button marked "Quittung"
immediately thereafter. Then, return to your vehicle and exit the
lot/garage. At the exit gate, insert the ticket into the machine
there and the barrier will open. You generally have 15 minutes or
so to reach the exit gate from the time you pay. If for some
reason you don't make it within this time period, go back to the
payment machine and start the process again using the ticket that you
received from the previous payment.
garages are open 24 hours; however, some are not open overnight. If
you're going to be out late, make sure that the lot or garage you
use will still be open when you return!